This rosewood and gilt-bronze writing table bears the signature of Georges-Alphonse Jacob-Desmalter, grandson of Georges Jacob, founder of the celebrated firm. The table recalls the form of an ancient cartibulum, an oblong marble table that would stand in the atrium of a Roman home to display objects of worth. The supports of the table, or trapezophori, were often carved as two griffin or chimerical monopodiae, standing back to back, with ornate grotesque or foliate relief between them, as seen in a pair of addorsed griffin table ends in the Vatican Museum collection (figure 1). Although the space between the monopodiae on the Jacob-Desmalter table has been left open, its carved legs are similarly conceived as griffins with the heads of lynxes, a sacred animal of Dionysus, characterized by its pointed ears and ruff of hair at the neck. Like the Vatican example, the creatures supporting this table have lolling tongues, which are connected to their chests.
Beneath the leather-lined and reed-bordered top, the table-frieze has its drawers reed-banded with gilt bronze scroll decorations, while gilt-bronze acanthus leaves are applied to the chest of each griffin. This acanthine embellishment derives from ancient marble originals, although in those examples the griffin often appears almost as if it is emerging from the plant itself (figure 2). A related early 19th century writing table attributed to Jacob-Desmalter formerly belonged to the collection of prominent collector Alexis von Rosenberg, 2nd Baron de Redé (sold at Sotheby’s Monaco 25-26 May 1975). This mahogany example also features griffin supports with distinctive gilt-bronze heads and decoration applied to the chest, again in the form of a leaf (figure 3).
Jacob-Desmalter took over the family business in 1825 and, like his father, continued to supply furniture to the châteaux of France, including Versailles and the Palais Royal. A fine draughtsman and a great innovator, Georges-Alphonse experimented with new woods and developed many original designs. He exhibited at the Exposition des Produits de L'Industrie in 1827, where his furniture was rewarded with a diploma along with considerable praise. “This maker upholds the high reputation acquired by his father,” noted the jury, “all his works are put together with admirable precision and display a rare magnificence.”
In 1839, Jacob-Desmalter took the title of “ebeniste menuisier maker to the King and the Prince and Princesses.” Throughout the forties, however, changes in both popular taste and political climate began to affect business. Finally in 1847, barely a year before the revolution that cost Louis-Philippe his throne, Jacob-Desmalter sold the firm to J. Janselme and devoted his remaining years to drawing and architecture.
This bureau plat is exceptional in being a sober and monumental example of early 19th century neoclassicism. Although made by Jacob-Desmalter, it is more reminiscent of the restrained English prototypes of the period. The back-to-back monopod supports have a smooth and massive quality redolent of the ancient marble table supports from which they are derived. Furthermore, the avoidance of a frieze separating the supports, combined with the angularity of the wings, gives the table an uncommon severe geometry, which imbues it with a sense of timelessness and modernity.